Archive for October, 2021

Public Compliance and the formation of a New Norm

  I keep thinking about the policies imposed by the officials and how people responded to it during the pandemic – Londoners were initially supportive of the measures taken, but many began circumventing them as the plague dragged on. This strikes me as painfully relevant to the situations in many states where the governments struggled to contain a second, third, or forth wave. Three factors, I have concluded from the book, are at play here:

  • Seriousness of the pandemic
  • Intensity of the response
  • Public awareness

  Below, I have plotted the relations between these three factors:

  We can logically take it a priori that the intensity of the response will positively correlate with the seriousness of the plague (in Defoe’s case, the roster). Public awareness, as Londoners in his book demonstrated, dwindled as the pandemic continued throughout the year – and as such people began finding loopholes in the rules to not confine themselves to their houses. People began to doubt: are we over-reacting to this? Below is a Twitter screenshot of a relevant sentiment observed during our very own COVID-19:

Twitter @PaulEWalsh

  The notion of a “new normal” particularly interests me. In studying how societal norms form in response to external monitoring (i.e., government policies to tackle the plague), Ostrom (2000) conducted group experiments where she compared the evolution of societal norms under different conditions of 1) organic (i.e., no rules), 2) weak external monitoring (i.e., rules exist but aren’t really enforced), and 3) strong external monitoring (i.e., rules exist and are enforced stringently). I have summarized a chart of her findings below:

  For me, Defoe’s account of Londoner’s sentiment seems to correspond to the “weak external monitoring/sanctioning” mechanism in the experiment. In Ostrom’s research, she found that this scenario contains the worst outcome of all: norms of compliance don’t develop, and nor does cooperation between members of the group mature. In addition to this model of (lack of) norms, the public awareness of following measures and aversion towards the plague fatigued as the story progressed, towards the end when rumors of plague dying down inspired people to almost celebrate. This, to me, is especially relevant to the current situation and the sense of “limbo” as most states in the world move towards the near-total-control of the COVID-19 pandemic. Should the next wave arise, will people have the capacity to go into lockdown again and fight the next wave as we did the first wave?

Ostrom, E. (2000). Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(3), 137–158.

Faith. Public or Private?

A journey of the plague year revolves around the experiences that the author had in plague ridden London. The Author copes with the plague and understands it thru his Christian faith. Which stemmed from reading the bible verse “Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night” (22). It is this faith that allowed him not only the ability to survive the plague but to also give reason to its existence. Similarly in the current pandemic many people have dove back into their faith. In Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, the crown prince of the UAE Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed hosted a virtual show titled ” Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis” in which he talked to many of the people who have had a tough job during the pandemic.

In his first episode he met with Dr. Omar al Derei, the executive director of Islamic affairs. In their conversation the idea of the countering the plague thru faith was the main topic of discussion. What I want to bring up is how faith is inherently different from an individualistic perspective and one from the perspective of a group. H.F wrote about his own ideas and his own perspective this is different for each person. While in the talk show the discussion was used to inform a big amount of people on the role of faith in the pandemic and its importance.

Each piece might have had a different era and very different cultures, but they have the same core. The interesting comparison between an induvials own faith and when faith is brought to the people from someone like the crown prince in order for it to be talked about and acknowledged by the public is very different. Will a person be more tempted to go into faith? Will a person feel less tempted since it can be viewed as a privet topic? These questions striked me when thinking of the two pieces in conjunction.

Defoe augmentor – Taman

I would like to add two sources to aid our discussion regarding Defoe’s “Journal of The Plague”. First source is a news article about how pandemic changes behavior of people to (don’t be too surprised) being nice! I know right, unbelievable. With all of the anti-vax, anti-masks, anti-common sense movements, it can be easy to feel as if the community is failing everyone, especially the most vulnerable (those who can’t vaccinate themselves, elderly, pregnant women and etc.) Despite all these negativity this article shows how “during these unprecedented times”, there still a little bit of humanity left through examples from the piece we are reading. I feel like this raises an important theme of community vs individuals. How “during these unprecedented times”, people have to think of themselves not as one, but as a whole, interconnected web, where actions of one directly affect everyone.

Other source is, honestly, much more complex and can be (actually is) hard to read, since its an academic one. It is titled “Telling Figures and Telling Feelings: The Geography of Emotions in the London of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Due Preparations for the Plague (1722)” and trust me, it is worth to at least scim through. Here is a little quote that I feel like can help me to push you to check it out:

“What really matters for Defoe is the human impact and suffering, and it is not so much the geography of the plague that he is writing, but the geography of the emotions of the London people.”

So, while reading this text, one would understand how Defoe is not just describing history of the plague, but is actually documenting an emotional part of the history. When he is talking about infants being born to dead mothers, trying to feed on the milk of a corpse, lying motionless on the cold ground. How the infected people are treated in inhumane ways, being locked up with no food and blamed by everyone even if they had no other options left. These atrocities and horrible incidents happening (all in detailed description) are analyzed and showcased in this text, so highly recommend to read/skim through 🙂

Astrology in 1665 and 2021

From a Guardian article on psychics sharing their 2021 predictions (

Pandemics come and go but clearly we have seen a number of parallels between what Defoe documents in London and how our societies have responded to the current pandemic. “Prophecies, astrological conjugations, dreams, and old wives’ tales” are clearly not just relics of London’s bubonic plague but very much something that people are once again turning to in the midst of COVID 19.

“Nearly 70 percent of French youth between the ages of 18-24 believe in parasciences (including astrology, numerology, palm reading, clairvoyance and cartomancy)”, a trend that has grown in recent months according to France 24.

Tiktok has also helped popularize many of these practices during the pandemic, through communities known as WitchTok.

Recently, these trends and their ties to mental health were epitomized by famous musician Lorde’s ironic song “Mood Ring”